Opinion: Scheer seeks an opening in NAFTA talks

Message was clear, Canada speaks with one voice

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not receive a lot of media attention at home or abroad on the occasion of his maiden visit to Washington this week, but he got the kind of coverage he and his party need more of over the next year.

The message Scheer took to Washington was at the NAFTA negotiating table Canada speaks with one voice, and he stuck to it even when that meant declining to answer questions that could have led him on a path more critical of Justin Trudeau’s government.

A debriefing news conference initially scheduled was cancelled due to illness. Inasmuch as it allowed Scheer to avoid an occasion to be taken off a constructive message track, the cancellation may have been a blessing in disguise.

With the NAFTA talks between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico about to resume in Montreal, discretion on the part of the official Opposition is the better part of valour.

Here are some reasons why:

A year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the White House’s NAFTA end game remains uncertain. As has been his fashion since his swearing-in, the president had managed, over the course of the first weeks of what could be a make-or-break year for the tripartite trade arrangement, to send contrary signals as to its future.

For obvious reasons Canadians are, so far, inclined to pin the blame for a potential failure at the NAFTA negotiating table on Trump rather than on Trudeau. The last thing Scheer needs in this context is to be seen as part of the problem and not of the solution.

Trudeau’s NAFTA tent is peopled with Conservative insiders. Those include Scheer’s interim predecessor, Rona Ambrose, as well as former Industry minister James Moore. By virtue of their past experience in senior cabinet portfolios, both bring more gravitas to the debate than the rookie Conservative leader. The talks – if they do not abort – will likely come down to how much water Canada is willing to put in its wine to salvage NAFTA. Should that point ever be reached, walking back the Liberal talk on the need for a more “progressive” trade arrangement could be the least of the prime minister’s problems.

Trudeau could be forced to make hard choices between competing Canadian interests. The arbitration could pit region against region. On this, as on the option of walking away from a mediocre deal, Scheer would have reasons to not rush to play back-seat driver.

Take the dismantling of Canada’s supply management system. It is high on the U.S. wish list and there is no lack of Canadian critics of the protection the country affords its dairy and poultry industries. But Scheer is not one of them. The pro-supply management lobby, in particular in Quebec, was instrumental in ensuring his upset leadership victory last year. The Conservative leader is in no position to prod Trudeau down the path of giving in to American demands on that front.

In the larger picture, the best-case scenario for the Conservatives would be to ensure Trudeau wears any concession Canada eventually makes at the NAFTA table.

That is not to say the Canada/U.S. file does not provide Scheer and his party with some openings to score some lasting political points for themselves.

It offers them a chance to put some much-needed distance between the hyperpartisan tone consistently cultivated by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper’s and Scheer’s watch. That cause was not advanced over his first full sitting as leader in the House of Commons.

The fall session of Parliament saw Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre step into the shoes of chief prosecutor of the government, shoes Thomas Mulcair used to fill. And in that role, Poilievre was no less effective than the former NDP leader.

But it is possible to pay tribute to Poilievre’s undeniable talents as an attack dog but also note that those are not necessarily the credentials most Canadians crave in a federal finance minister.

If Scheer is going to have a shot at replacing Trudeau as prime minister it will be because he will have convinced enough voters that he leads a competent, politically mature government-in-waiting.

On that score, the rookie Conservative leader has so far been better served by the nuanced approach of foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole to the Canada/U.S. brief than by any amount of question period antics.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer.

Just Posted

One strong wind leaves years of replanting work for Red Deer parks staff

High visibility boulevards already replanted, neighbourhood work starts next year

Red Deer-area indigenous filmmakers invited to apply for $20,000 grant

Storyhive launches Indigenous Storyteller Edition

Restaurant closed after compliance team patrol

Public Safety Compliance Team checked eight bars and restaurants on Oct. 19

Red Deerians await local cannabis stores

So far 31 stores in Alberta awarded licence to operate

Rimbey RCMP seek missing man with health concerns

Has anyone seen Bill Harris of Ponka County?

WATCH: Make-A-Wish grants Star Wars loving teen’s wish

The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Anakin Suerink’s wish in Red Deer Saturday afternoon

iPhone XR makes the right trade-offs for a cheaper price

NEW YORK — Apple offers you a simple trade-off with its new… Continue reading

BMW to recall 1.6 million vehicles worldwide over fire risk

FRANKFURT — Automaker BMW says it is expanding a recall to cover… Continue reading

Calgary awaits federal financing on 2026, Notley suggests IOC could pay more

CALGARY — With the clock ticking towards a Calgary vote on hosting… Continue reading

Toronto Mayor John Tory cruises to victory; tech issues extend voting elsewhere

Toronto Mayor John Tory easily won re-election on Monday after a spirited… Continue reading

Local Sports: Rudy Soffo valuable to Kings on the court

When Rudy Soffo first saw the RDC basketball Kings roster he was… Continue reading

Except for 1 kick, Saints, Ravens are evenly matched

BALTIMORE — In a matchup between the league’s highest-scoring offence and top-ranked… Continue reading

Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a top award for comedy

WASHINGTON — After a 35-year acting career and with two iconic television… Continue reading

Ricky Skaggs, Dottie West enter Country Music Hall of Fame

NASHVILLE — Bluegrass and country star Ricky Skaggs, singer Dottie West and… Continue reading

Most Read